Editor, Shorthand Writer and Photographer
Anton Šmotlák was born on 15 November 1920 in Nitra. He received his first camera at the age of 13, and when his father passed away, they moved with his mother to Bratislava at the beginning of the 1940s. In 1940, he began to work as the editor of the Slovak Press Agency, later Czechoslovak Press Agency, and he took an interest in shorthand. It wasn’t until the late 1950s that he got involved in professional photography and his work was regularly published by several newspapers and magazines. As a photographer, he collaborated with many cultural institutions. 1970 was the year when two simultaneous exhibitions were held – they were the only exhibitions organised while Šmotlák was still alive. Anton Šmotlák died on 24 January 1979 in Bratislava.
“He was the benevolent paparazzo, and we became accustomed to his presence at theatres, vernissages and television…”, said Július Satinský. As an art photographer, he preferred to stay in the background; omnipresent yet invisible. Anton Šmotlák specialised in theatre photography, but he was also involved in live photography since the very beginning. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he embraced so many topics and processed them with understanding as only a few other Slovak photographers could.
Approximately since the mid-1950s and out of pure spontaneity, he started making photographs which he later labelled as his “sentimental work”. They were basically genre photographs in which Šmotlák captured mostly everyday life in the streets of Bratislava and “mood” shots of nature, architecture or other urban entities. He paid special attention mostly to deserted, yet photogenic parts of old Bratislava that were destined for destruction or turned into ruins and met their demise later. There were many shots especially in the 1950s and 1960s that made a detailed record of life in both old and new parts of Bratislava, including the rural outskirts of the town.
Anton Šmotlák enters here as a smart observer, making photographs with his inconspicuous smile and silent understanding and presence. He is interested in human interaction, the creation of new situations, mutual observation and passing by those who are on the move or just standing around. It is this discreet distance between the photographer and the object that creates such a feeling of nostalgia. Sometime later on, his approach changes – the photographer leaves his position as an impartial observer and enters the game that he himself instigates. He creates a situation just to take not one but a series of photographs.
In the mid-1950s, he was among the first Slovak photographers to free himself from ideological dogmas and other limitations. His personal approach certainly helped, along with his ability to look behind the curtain (both literally and metaphorically) and to reveal and expose his era.
This text was processed using extracts from: HRABUŠICKÝ, A. – VANČO, F. 2020. Anton Šmotlák. Vydavateľstvo Slovart, SNG, Photoport. p. 140